Goals have proved hard to come by in Round Six of the Stirling Sports Premiership so far as the Wellington Phoenix U-20s and Auckland City both secured narrow 1-0 wins while Team Wellington and Eastern Suburbs battled through a scoreless stalemate.
The honour of opening the round's action went to Southern United and the Phoenix, who met each other on Friday evening under the roof of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium in what turned out to be a low-scoring affair.
The hosts went into the match as the only team in the league without a win and, unfortunately for coach Paul O'Reilly, his quest to finally secure three points will continue after a goal from top scorer Max Mata earned the Phoenix their third win of the season.
Mata opened the scoring in the 25th minute for the visitors, calmly converting a Logan Rogerson cross to leave Southern in the familiar position of having to chase the game. The Phoenix were good value for their lead after dominating possession for much of the first half and could even have been two up by this point after Mata earlier dragged a shot wide in the 10th minute.
But the home side grew into proceedings and put plenty of pressure on the Phoenix as they searched desperately for an equaliser in the second spell. They came close when half-time substitute Tennessee Kinghorn nearly made an immediate impact but couldn't quite get on the end of an inch-perfect Danny Ledwith cross.
Kinghorn threatened again from a cross, this time delivered by Ross Howard, in the 55th minute but headed just over the bar of Phoenix goalkeeper Oliver Sail. The Phoenix had a chance to extend their lead when Alex Rufer drove a low free kick under the Southern wall with just over 20 minutes remaining but home custodian Liam Little was equal to the effort.
Southern then laid siege to the Phoenix defence and very nearly rescued a point late on when a shot from the lively Kinghorn was blocked and the Phoenix managed to survive the ensuing goalmouth scramble. Andy Hedge's side went on to play out the remaining minutes safely and celebrate their second consecutive victory.
"I said to Paul after the game that they deserved a little more than that," admitted Hedge. "They were really good in the second half and put us under a hell of a lot of pressure. But I'm proud of the boys, they stuck with it, worked hard and kept their discipline again."
O'Reilly was pleased to see his team make more of an impact as the game wore on but feels their inability to put in a complete performance continues to cost them.
"We dominated the second half and created a number of chances but we can't go into games, start poorly and give teams a 1-0 lead," he said. "It's frustrating that we're not putting together 90 minutes - we haven't done that in any game so far. Until we start doing that, we won't be picking up any points. We need to learn quickly and start making better decisions because we're killing ourselves."
Goals were also in short supply this afternoon at David Farrington Park, where Team Wellington and Eastern Suburbs fought out a scoreless draw in the first ever meeting between the pair. Neither side really did enough to deserve all three points, although the hosts did attempt to turn the screw in the second half as Nicolas Zambrano, Joel Stevens and Ben Harris all had chances.
"I thought we shaded it in the second half, although a draw was probably a fair result," Wellington coach Jose Figueira said. "As we've gone through the season, there's less and less things to work on which is a good sign that we're making progress."
Suburbs coach Malcolm McPherson agreed that a sharing of the spoils was the most appropriate outcome but felt his side had the better of the first half.
"Our press was good, we were breaking well and created a few opportunities - nothing gilt-edged but certainly some good situations," he said. "So we're a little bit disappointed we didn't nick one in the first half but, in fairness to Team Wellington, they were the better side in the first 20 minutes of the second half. To come away from the reigning champions with a nil-all is a decent result so we'll take a point."
In the late kick-off on Saturday afternoon, the live SKY Sport cameras were on hand at Kiwitea Street and it looked like they would have plenty of action to capture when Micah Lea'alafa gave Auckland City a very early lead against Hawke's Bay United.
After making a massive impression last season, Lea'alafa's impact has so far been muted in the current campaign after returning from the Solomon Islands late in the piece. But he wasted no time in making his mark this afternoon, sliding in to slot home a low Takuya Iwata cross in just the second minute.
City went on to completely dominate the half and will have been disappointed to have gone into the sheds with only a one-goal lead after creating several other chances. They continued to show their superiority for much of the second spell but Hawke's Bay did well to stay in the contest and even put themselves into a position to take something from the game when piling on the pressure late on.
A pair of Saul Halpin free kicks gave them that opportunity but both were kept out as Auckland held on to head off to the FIFA Club World Cup on the back on an important win.
Round Six of the Stirling Sports Premiership wraps up tomorrow with Waitakere United making their first trip to Tasman United and Canterbury United playing host to Hamilton Wanderers.
Stirling Sports Premiership - Round Six
Southern United 0
Wellington Phoenix U-20 1 (Max Mata 25')
Team Wellington 0
Eastern Suburbs 0
Auckland City 1 (Micah Lea'alafa 2')
Hawke's Bay United 0
Tasman United vs Waitakere United
Trafalgar Park, 2pm
Canterbury United vs Hamilton Wanderers
English Park, 2pm